Friday, 19 December 2008

Introducing... And Collective

Following on from yesterday's post, this week's Introducing... section features Justine Ellis and Dan Rule who form part of Melbourne-based group And Collective. Since forming in 2000, And Collective have since published 4 books so far - no small feat considering the humble beginnings of the first book, And, which was manually printed and assembled in their bedrooms.

Demonstrating a strong emphasis upon Melbourne, its history, cultural temperament and society, each And Collective publication is a lovingly curated affair. Previous books have had its pages filled with whimsical illustrations by Amy Alexander, Rik Lee, Kat MacLeod and Marc Martin, the lyrical poetics of Dan Rule, Meg Courtney and Toby Burke, Justine Ellis' deadpan approach to photography that belies a deeper sentimentality, the humour of Meg Mundell and Oslo Davis and now, musical accompaniment by artists like Saddle Back and Lee Memorial among others.

Definitely someone to watch, yours truly can't wait to see what the And Collective kids have up their sleeves next!

This is our last feature for the year before CLOG goes on hiatus tomorrow (sob!), so in the wise words of Breakfast Club tearjerker: "Don't you (forget about me)"... Yes we do love John Hughes here at CVHQ!

Googling 'And Collective' doesn't reveal a whole lot, so tell us a bit about yourselves...what inspired you to come together and form And Collective?

Dan: We’re basically a small-scale, independent publishing collective made up of old friends. We get together once in a while and make books, which tend to incorporate visual art, writing and, more recently, sound. There were originally four of us – Justine Ellis, Marc Martin, Rik Lee and me (Dan Rule) – but we’re currently working as a trio.

It was all fairly innocent at first. We were all getting to the end of uni and, from memory, we were sitting around in my backyard, having one of those lovely, naïve, passionate early twenties conversations about art. I think it must have been late 2000 or something. Anyway, we decided that we all wanted to work on something together; something that was personal and something that captured a time in our lives. None of us were all that impressed by our first forays into the freelance world. Quite naively, we decided that we should make books. There wasn’t really much of an indie publishing scene at the time – not one we were aware of anyway – and that kind of made it all the more alluring. Who made books? No one. Easy, we thought. Fame and fortune awaited.

We launched our first book, And, in April 2002. It was basically a bunch of drawings, photos and stories about our neighbourhoods. We asked a few our friends and siblings to contribute work. My sister wrote a poem about a bull-ant. The books were completely handmade and printed in our bedrooms on inkjet printers. Each book was hopelessly elaborate, printed in full-colour with gatefolds and French-folded pages and Japanese hand-stich binding. The margins weren’t so good. I think it cost us about $60 per book to make and we sold them for $40 (or $35 for students). We planned to do a run of 80 copies but we only made it to 46.

We’ve basically grown from there, managing to release book every two years or whenever we can get the funding. We released And 02 (1000 copies) in 2004, Personal Empires (500 copies) in 2006 as part of the Next Wave Festival, and A Place Tells a Story (1000 copies) – which features 25 Australian artists, writers and musicians and is based around themes of place and community – in late September of this year.

While our books still have a very personal dynamic, we seem to have become increasingly interested in thematic, project-based work. We tend to hand-pick contributors who we think will be suited to the theme, send them a detailed brief and ask them to respond however they see fit. Even though our productions have grown, we still have a very hands-on approach to our work. The books always go through a lengthy post-production process when we get them back from the printers – hand-numbering, stamping, screen-printing and so forth – so every copy has been touched by the artists.

What were some of the frustrations you encountered when publishing your latest book, A Place Tells A Story?

Justine: Unsurprisingly we encountered a few frustrations. This year has been quite a busy year for all three of us, and finding the time to get together as And Collective outside of our day jobs proved to be difficult.

Working with 25 individual contributors was a handful. While everyone was lovely and easy to communicate with, it was simply a lot more work than we expected! And of course, once deadlines get pushed and pushed, the entire project slows down. I think we found that we work best at high speed, do or die, now or never. On the other hand, we do love procrastinating over one decision!

Also, we find writing grant proposals particularly draining. Every decision, every idea, every detail is scrutinized and you begin to seriously doubt your project. We’ll fly off on a tangent and find the project somewhere else entirely and then sit down and have to rein it back to the original idea. When you keep coming back to that idea you know you’re onto something. So I guess grants are a blessing in disguise!

...and the fun parts?

Justine: Seeing, hearing or reading a contributors work for the first time! It’s rather wonderful to see how they respond to our brief. I am continually blown away by the great work they provide. It is always different and better than I imagined. It’s fun work getting a chance to work on our own art as well.

What achievement are you most proud of to date?

Justine: Each book is an achievement and a mark of time in our lives. The first book, And, was made when Marc, Dan and I were living together in Fitzroy and Rik was just around the corner. We’d get together to talk about And Collective and end up having a big boozy night talking utter nonsense. In hindsight it’s a huge achievement it was ever completed!

Who/what would your dream collaboration be?

Dan: I almost feel like every book we’ve done has been a dream collaboration. We’ve always made an effort to work with our best friends and people who we have a great deal of respect for, so you can’t really ask for more. Personally, I feel really honoured to have worked with all the contributors, from great friends like Kat Macleod, Meg Mundell, Toby Burke, Nadia Combe and Kyle De Kuijer through to people like Warwick Baker, Oslo Davis, Eve Vincent and Memuzin River and so many others. But more than anything, I’ve appreciated collaborating with the And kids themselves – Rik, Marc and Justine!

And finally, where do you see And Collective moving towards in the future? Any plans for world domination?

Justine: Our clothing line will be completed for launch next winter, and we’re launching our fragrance tomorrow… haha!! World domination can wait for now! At the moment we’re a lot more focused on producing a greater number of books per year, rather than one every two years. We’d love to start publishing books on individual artists. The trouble is there are so many great artists out there! Melbourne and Australia are rife with talent. We’ve also started a distribution arm, so we’re distributing titles by artists and publishers even smaller than our tiny selves. Hopefully you won’t be able to walk into a shop without seeing an And Collective book! Hmmm, kinda sounds like world domination…

A decidedly naked-looking book... perhaps due to the absence of a Holly Daze-screenprinted book jacket? Heehee!

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